Psalm 56:1-4

1. Be merciful unto me, O God! for man swallows me up1 he fighting against me, daily oppresseth me. 2. Mine enemies daily swallow me up: surely they be many2 that fight against me, O Most High!3 3. In the day that I was afraid, I did put my trust in thee. 4. In God I will praise his word; in God I have put my trust: I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.


1. Be merciful unto me, O God! for man swallows me up4. It would be difficult to determine whether he speaks here of foreign or domestic enemies. When brought to King Achish he was as a sheep between two bands of wolves, an object of deadly hatred to the Philistines on the one hand, and exposed to equal persecutions from his own fellow-countrymen. He uses the indefinite term man in this verse, though in the next he speaks of having many enemies, the more forcibly to express the truth that the whole world was combined against him, that he experienced no humanity amongst men, and stood in the last necessity of divine help. The term daily would suggest that he refers more immediately to Saul and his faction. But in general, he deplores the wretchedness of his fate in being beset with adversaries so numerous and so barbarous. Some translate Pas, shaaph, to regard, but it is more properly rendered to swallow up, a strong expression, denoting the insatiable rage with which they assailed him. I have adhered to the common translation of Mxl, lacham, though it also signifies to eat up, which might consist better with the metaphor already used in the preceding part of the verse. It is found, however, in the sense to fight against, and I was unwilling to depart from the received rendering. I shall only observe in passing, that those who read in the second member of the verse, many fighting with me, as if he alluded to the assistance of angels, mistake the meaning of the passage; for it is evident that he uses the language of complaint throughout the verse.

3. In the day that I was afraid, etc. In the Hebrew, the words run in the future tense, but they must be resolved into the praeterite. He acknowledges his weakness, in so far as he was sensible of fear, but denies having yielded to it. Dangers might distress him, but could not induce him to surrender his hope. He makes no pretensions to that lofty heroism which contemns danger, and yet while he allows that he felt fear, he declares his fixed resolution to persist in a confident expectation of the divine favor. The true proof of faith consists in this, that when we feel the solicitations of natural fear, we can resist them, and prevent them from obtaining an undue ascendancy. Fear and hope may seem opposite and incompatible affections, yet it is proved by observation, that the latter never comes into full sway unless there exists some measure of the former. In a tranquil state of the mind, there is no scope for the exercise of hope. At such times it lies dormant, and its power is only displayed to advantage when we see it elevating the soul under dejection, calming its agitations, or soothing its distractions. This was the manner in which it manifested itself in David, who feared, and yet trusted, was sensible of the greatness of his danger, and yet quieted his mind with the confident hope of the divine deliverance.

4. In God I will praise his word. Here he grows more courageous in the exercise of hope, as generally happens with the people of God. They find it difficult at first to reach this exercise. It is only after a severe struggle that they rise to it, but the effort being once made, they emerge from their fears into the fullness of confidence, and are prepared to grapple with the most formidable enemies. To praise, is here synonymous with glorying or boasting. He was now in possession of a triumphant confidence, and rejoiced in the certainty of hope. The ground of his joy is said to be the divine word; and this implies, that however much he might seem to be forsaken and abandoned by God, he satisfied himself by reflecting on the truthfulness of his promises. He would glory in God notwithstanding, and although there should be no outward appearance of help, or it should even be sensibly withdrawn, he would rest contented with the simple security of his word. The declaration is one that deserves our notice. How prone are we to fret and to murmur when it has not pleased God immediately to grant us our requests! Our discontent may not be openly expressed, but it is inwardly felt, when we are left in this manner to depend upon his naked promises. It was no small attainment in David, that he could thus proceed to praise the Lord, in the midst of dangers, and with no other ground of support but the word of God. The sentiment contained in the latter clause of the verse might seem at first glance to merit little consideration. What more obvious than that God is able to protect us from the hand of men, that his power to defend is immensely greater than their power to injure? This may be true, but we all know too well how much of that perverse unbelief there is in our hearts, which leads us to rate the ability of God below that of the creature. It was no small proof, therefore, of the faith of David, that he could despise the threatenings of his enemies. And it would be well if all the saints of God were impressed with such a sense of his superiority to their adversaries as would lead them to show a similar contempt of danger. When assailed by these, it should never escape their recollection, that the contest is in reality between their enemies and God, and that it were blasphemous in this case to doubt the issue. The great object which these have in view is to shake our faith in the promised help of the Lord; and we are chargeable with limiting his power, unless we realize him standing at our right hand, able with one movement of his finger, or one breath of his mouth, to dissipate their hosts, and confound their infatuated machinations. Shall we place him on a level with mortal man, and measure his probable success by the numbers which are set against him? "But how," may it be asked, "are we to account for this sudden change in the exercise of David? A moment before, he was expressing his dread of destruction, and now he bids defiance to the collected strength of his enemies." I reply, that there is nothing in his words which insinuate that he was absolutely raised above the influence of fear, and every sense of the dangers by which he was encompassed. They imply no more than that he triumphed over his apprehensions, through that confident hope of salvation with which he was armed. Men he terms in this verse flesh, to impress the more upon his mind the madness of their folly in attempting a contest so infinitely above their strength.

1 "Ou, me mangeant." -- Fr. marg. "Or, eating me."

2 "Ou, des puissans et robustes." -- Fr. marg. "Or, they be mighty and strong."

3 The original word Mwrm, marom, here rendered "O Most High!" is literally loftily. Dathe, Berlin, and Gesenius, render it superbly, proudly. Cresswell, following Le Clerc, reads, from the highest places, and considers the meaning to be, that the foes of David made an incursion upon him, descending from the mountains, and forcing him again to supplicate Achish. Compare 1 Samuel 27:1, 2, 3. Horsley and Dr Adam Clarke read, "from on high;" by which the latter critic understands from "the place of authority, the court and cabinet of Saul." He observes, on the word Mwrm, marom, "I do not think that this word expresses any attribute of God, or, indeed, is at all addressed to him." "In Micah 6:6, however," says Dr Morrison, "Mwrm seems to express the perfections of the divine character." Calvin's translation agrees with that of the Chaldee, of Aquila, and of our English Bible.

4 The verb here translated swallows me up, is rendered by French and Skinner, panteth after me. It is literally draweth in the air. It thus implies the intense desire of David's enemies to get him into their hands, and to destroy him.


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